Can we relate to the 23rd Psalm today? What principles can we apply to our lives? What help is there to be found in the 23rd Psalm for believers in the 21st Century?
What is a Psalm?
The Psalms remind me of the word “songs.” They were originally written as musical expressions of worshiping God. They reflect on His goodness, His holiness, His power, His deliverance, His provisions and the salvation that is found only in Him. David wrote most of the Psalms but not all of them. In most Bible’s you can see who the author was. David was also an extraordinarily gifted musician and King Saul loved to hear David play. It was always soothing to him in his often troubled spirit. Worship music has a way of reaching deep into the depths of the believer’s soul and lift it out of the darkest of nights. A Psalm is a praise song and is a poetic work of art. We are focusing on one of the most widely recognize and beloved…the 23rd Psalm, often called the Shepherd’s Psalm.
The Great Shepherd
Today we know that Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. He watches over His little flock, the church. He is the Head of the Church and its provider and protector, just as a real shepherd was to his sheepfold. David was a shepherd before he was a king and so he could see the symbolism of God’s shepherding His people when he wrote Psalm 23.
Psalm 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd
I offer this line-by-line exposition of the 23rd Psalm so that we can look to see exactly what David is telling us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The symbolism of the 23rd Psalm has much more meaning to us today than we might imagine that it did in David’s day, which was an agrarian society.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
God is our Shepherd and like a Good Shepherd, He will provide for His own for every need we will ever have (Philippians 4:19). It does not mean that He will provide for every thing we want, but for everything that we need. He is a faithful Shepherd that provides for His sheep (Matthew 6:33).
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
Here is an interesting line. We often get so busy in our lives that we don’t have the sense to take our rest in Him, so He makes me to lie down. Sheep are not very smart. They have to be forced to rest. Sounds familiar to me. Sheep also frequently feed until there is bare ground and stubble, but the Good Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures. In the pastures we can get fed and we must feed on Him for He is the Word of God (John 1) and we can dine daily on the Bread of Life. Sheep are also afraid of moving water and even if they are dying of thirst, they will not go near a running brook or creek…but they love the still waters. They can drink freely from Him Who is the Living Water. He leads us, you might notice, because we are all like sheep and we go astray, and we can’t always find the still waters. More often we end up in troubled waters, well over our heads.
3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
When we grow weary and fainthearted with the troubles of life, He restores and refreshes us. This “restoring” is also a restoration from eternal death to eternal life. Sheep are not always aware of where they are going. In fact, sheep have been known to walk right off a cliff and so the Good Shepherd leads us in the paths and His path leads to His righteousness. Not for our sake but for His glory and for His name’s sake. One of the chief purposes of mankind is to glorify God and to glorify God for His name’s sake. God will not share His glory with another. Why should He? He is worthy of all glory.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Sheep are susceptible to predators. Satan is said to be like a roaring lion who roams around seeking whom he might devour but He is walking in the shadows with us. Satan stalks and crouches down low so as to spring on unsuspecting prey. Our daily walk with God is fraught with trials, troubles, and risks, but He is with us throughout our life. That is why we don’t have to fear evil. It is because He is with us that we should not fear. Sheep without a shepherd can easily be frightened and startled to death and die of a heart attack.
Why could a rod help the shepherd? It was because the rod was used to protect against predators, to defend the sheep in case of attack, to guide the sheep, and to keep them in the right path and not wander from it. The rod was not only useful for a weapon but symbolizes authority over the sheep.
The staff on the other hand had a bend in it. This bend was fitted perfectly for bringing in the stray sheep by their necks. It was so perfectly shaped that it would never choke the sheep but it was narrow enough to be able to bring the sheep back into the fold in a gentle, loving, yet firm way. If sheep end up on their backs, they could not right themselves and would die of starvation on their backs. That is why it was comforting to the sheep to have the shepherd near them. The staff kept them in the fold, kept them on their feet, kept them free from harm and kept them free from fear. The rod and staff, even from the time of the ancient Egyptians, have been symbols of royalty.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
God is preparing a place at His table for us. This reminds me of the Great Marriage Supper of the Lamb of God when we will dine with our Lord on that Great Day of the Wedding Feast. John wrote that “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God“ (Revelation 19:9).
Remember that Jesus said to the disciples before He left that “I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). Jesus said, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God“ (Luke 14:15).
The anointing of oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit and it also pictured the anointing of the kings and priests which believers are destined to be someday (Revelation 5:10).
Finally, the cup that runs over is symbolic of Eastern hospitality. When a guest was welcome to stay, they intentionally overflowed the cup so that the guest realized that they were welcome to all that the hosts had and could stay as long as they wanted. This is indicative of eternal life in Christ. We will abide with Him for all eternity.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me. All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
With a sense of assuredness, David understood that mercy and goodness would follow him. Not just while he was king, but all the days of his life. God has said that He is the God of the living and not of the dead (Luke 20:38), thus he knew that he would dwell in the house of the Lord Forever. This is an Old Testament revelation of what is to come for those who are His. It is a prophecy that will be fulfilled by Christ at the physical death of all believers. We will dwell in the house of the Lord, which is the Kingdom of God, forever and without end. That is nothing less than eternal life (John 3:16).
What comfort it is to know that our Lord will provide for our every need (v 1), that He will provide the Bread of Life and Well of Water that never runs dry (v 2), that He will lead us down the right path for His glory’s sake and restore us at death to eternal life (v 3), that His staff and rod will protect us, guided us, and preserved us (v 4), that even now, He is preparing a place for us and will come again someday because we have the Holy Spirit (v 5), and no good thing will be withheld from us and we will dwell with Him for ages without end in the Kingdom of God (v 6). This short little Psalm is packed with powerful promises, provisions, and purpose. The Lord is my Shepherd. What more should I want?
Here is another Bible study by Pastor Jack, have you read it? What is Sanctification?
Resources – New International Version Bible, The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblca, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide